Beauty and the Beast (2017) Film Review

3/5 stars

Unless you’ve also been trapped in Beast’s castle then you’ll know that Disney are hard at work by revisiting their animated classics in live action format. This can be traced back to the billion dollar grossing Alice in Wonderland (2010) which was followed by Maleficent in 2014. Not crediting Cinderella (2015) completely to Disney’s now traditional approach to revisiting its animated classics, however since then we’ve seen Disney take less risks with remaking its animations.

Ever since the beginning of 2015 when Emma Watson was cast as Belle in the live action Beauty and the Beast, the hype has been high and audiences have been eagerly awaiting Disney’s new interpretation of it’s 1991 classic. For years I’ve been looking forward to this film, but months before once all of the promotional material was being released I had this sense that it wouldn’t be the grand and extravagant remake I was hoping for…sadly I was right.

TALE AS OLD AS TIME

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Starting with the positives I thought the film looked the part. Visually it was eye catching and I thought they captured the look and vibe of the original quite well. The characters of Lumière, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Chip etc. were all effortlessly integrated with the live action characters (something I felt that The Jungle Book – 2016 failed to do with its CGI animals and live action characters) and I thought those characters were fun to watch and it wasn’t a huge let down from the animated versions of these characters.

With $462 million worldwide (against a $160 million budget) at the Box Office (so far) and with a 70% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, fans are clearly loving this film (for some reason). It is a tale that is as old as time (1991 feels like a century ago to most people) and since the animation’s release it has always been a part of people’s childhoods and it has grown up with people still retaining it’s relevant and popular appeal. My worry is that now Disney see that being unoriginal and not taking chances works, they’ll rehash it’s upcoming live action adaptations. I guess from a business point of view fair enough but where are the visionaries that want to do something exciting and new meaning that it can stand side by side with the originals and now replace them.

GASTON THE MOVIE: FEAUTRING BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

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If I had to single one performance out as the most committed and most convincing it was Luke Evans as Gaston. He played the arrogant bachelor to perfection, down to his singing and characterisation it was flawless. Out of all the cast I felt Luke Evans was the only one who gave 100% and the scenes with him in were more exciting than others…and that’s saying something when you’re meant to be watching the film for the leading performances of Belle and Beast.

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Speaking of the cast; Emma Watson is a great actress (she was amazing in Perks of being a Wallflower -2012 and The Bling Ring – 2013) and on paper she IS Belle. However, there were moments (especially the first half or so) where her performance felt half hearted. I know she’s singing about how everyone are peasants and she’s superior to everyone but even the animated Belle seemed more kind to the locals and in general the animated Belle was more fun to watch. It was rise and fall with Emma’s performance; the iconic ballroom scene and when she goes back to her provincial town to rescue her father were the highlights of her performance. She wasn’t bad but I expected more from her (no offence but after watching her performance as Belle I’m happy she dropped out of La La Land – 2016 for Oscar winner Emma Stone to replace her). I would say Dan Stevens as the Beast was slightly better with his performance, but I would argue that the animation team who worked on his look did an amazing job of effortlessly blending his character with the live action characters. Overall, not exactly the most exciting leading couple that have graced our screens.

TAKE CHANCES

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I will be that person that says that the animation is far more superior than the 2017 live action remake. The original is more atmospheric, dramatic, emotional, heartwarming and grand in everything from its characters to the look of the film. In 1992 Beauty and the Beast became the first animation to be nominated an Oscar for Best Picture, I seriously doubt this new version will have anywhere near that same impact today. This is why it should have done differently so that it honours the original but offers something new to today’s audience. Scenes like when Belle runs on the hill and sings, Beast offering Belle the library, even the iconic ballroom dance scene etc. were adapted half heartedly and it almost felt like they were just there because the audience were expecting them to feature in the film. The animation did all of those scenes and more with a sense of grandeur and wonder. The danger rehashing everything from the animation is the audience knows what to expect so there’s no sense of mystery and wonder.

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I understand that director Bill Condon was unapologetic about honouring the 1991 animation with only the addition of a few new songs (which added nothing new to the film) and Emma Watson’s few tweaks (which were hardly revolutionary to the character) however I would have loved it if Disney took a risk and brought something new to the table. The reason why Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Maleficent (2014) worked so well, in my opinion, was because they took a new approach to a tale that in embedded in our brains from childhood. I have no issues with remakes, only if they offer something unique and something that is worth watching again in a different format. I would have loved to see Guillermo del Toro’s version as he definitely would have bright a refreshing take of a tale so universally known and loved. Sadly he departed from the project a few years ago making way for Bill Condon to direct his unoriginal remake.

I’ve heard about a live action update for several years and I thought the decision to approach the remake in a more traditional manner was more down to the the success of Cinderella (2015) however I read that Bill Condon decided to take less chances after the success of Frozen (2013):

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“Before I arrived, they were rethinking Beauty and the Beast more radically, more like Snow White and the Huntsman. There was a lot of conversation about the War of the Austrian Succession that didn’t interest me. But then after Frozen opened, the studio saw that there was this big international audience for an old-school-musical approach. But initially they said, “We’re interested in a musical to a degree, but only half full of songs.” My interest was taking that film and doing it in this new medium — live action — as a full-on musical movie. So I backed out for a minute, and they came back and said, “No, no, no, we get it, let’s pursue it that way.” 

Even without Guillermo del Toro we could have seen a more radical and exciting version of Beauty and the Beast, because the story is far bigger than Disney itself so why not try something new?

I’ve expressed my fears for what impact the success of this film may have, however overall I would say it’s a enjoyable film which is easy and fun to watch. But it’s worrying that 26 years later Disney we’re basically seeing Disney revisit their greatest hits in the most unoriginal way possible. My advice is watch this film so you can tick it off your list, it’s not a total waste of your time, but please watch the original animation as it’s far more impactful than the 2017 version.

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Arrival (2016) Film Review

 

3 STARS

Arrival has received universal critical acclaim and has grossed $130 million worldwide at the box office against a $47 million budget. Arrival also received 2 Golden Globe nominations including a nomination for Amy Adams in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama category. One would assume that Arrival is a great film that everyone should see, I hate to say it but I was not blown away by this supposedly fresh and unique take on the sci-fi genre. I’m conflicted because there were aspects I appreciated and I think I know what they were aiming for, however it never really clicked with me.

WHAT I LOVED

AMY ADAMS

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Amy Adams was the standout. The 5 time Oscar nominated actress can do no wrong and deserves her Golden Globe nomination for her performance in Arrival. Amy Adams has to be one of my favourite actresses because she gives powerful and diverse performances in films such as Enchanted (2007), Doubt (2008), American Hustle (2013) and Big Eyes (2014). She isn’t afraid to tackle any genre as she takes on a role and gives it her all.

This time she strips it back and there’s power in the stillness of her performance; we meet her character Louise at a moment in her life where she is numb from the hardships that life has dealt her and when the aliens arrive she has to find her purpose again. Amy Adams is captivating because you’re constantly watching trying to decipher what her character is feeling and processing as she’s dealing with the current state of events as well as dealing with the repercussions of her past.

DIRECTION

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The only other film I’ve seen from Denis Villeneuve is the Emily Blunt fronted Sicario (2015) which I loved. There are similarities in terms of his direction; he doesn’t rush the pace or tone of the film and he lets moments just be. It may be slow for some but for me it’s Denis allowing the audience to be in the moment and take in every little thing in. As I was watching Arrival I could detect the sense of direction from Denis, however towards the end it never really took off and the pay off was quite anti-climactic (which I’ll expand upon later on) but on the whole I loved his directing style.

SUBVERTING GENRE

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The one thing Arrival has going for it is that it isn’t a flashy and loud sci-fi blockbuster extravaganza; it’s very stripped back and quiet. Going back to the points about Denis’ directing style and Amy Adam’s performance there is a stillness which is refreshing and the film does it’s best to try to be thought provoking and giving little bits away to keep the audience watching.

 

WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE

ALIENS (not the film)

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What were up with those aliens? The design of the aliens were so bland and unoriginal. The whole concept of the aliens were wasted and I was disappointed thinking that Arrival would offer something we haven’t seen before and yet it was very generic in design.

THE MESSAGE

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The overall message as well didn’t really connect as much as I wanted it to. I understood what the film was going for and there’s a moment where Amy Adams asks Jeremy Renner’s character Ian whether if he knew what life would deal him would he still go for it. Without giving too much away I understood what the film was trying to convey to the audience but found it pointless and a wasted opportunity be told through a sci-fi film; there was no need for aliens to come down and serve the purpose they served. I remember the film finishing and just thinking what on earth have I just watched? Because even though I understood the overall message of the film there were still some unanswered questions.

 

CONCLUSION

From the director who brought us Sicario (2015), featuring a great cast consisting of Amy Adams (American Hustle, Her, Enchanted, The Muppets) and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, Avengers Assemble, American Hustle, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and the fact Arrival had rave reviews I was left feeling very disappointed and didn’t feel the film delivered on what was being promised to the audiences. There are some positives to be taken away from the film viewing (as discussed previously) however ultimately it isn’t a sci-fi that is going to become a modern day classic. Dare I say that I’d rather watch Interstellar (2014) than Arrival.

The Light Between Oceans (2016) Film Review

4/5 Stars

Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander: two reasons why you need to see this film. I think they are incredible actors and they deliver committed performances. The Light Between Oceans tells the tale of a lighthouse keeper (Fassbender) and his wife (Vikander) who rescue a baby adrift off the coast of Western Australia. This is a film that has an engaging narrative and character development which will surprise audiences along the way.

The Light Between Oceans was an emotional roller coaster because it took you places you weren’t expecting or anticipating; I was an emotional wreck and I haven’t had an experience like that in a long time. I was invested in these characters and by the time they learn the true parentage of their adopted daughter you feel their pain and the moral dilemma they face.

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Bringing it back to the leading actors of the film; they were stunning. Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender portraying Tom Sherbourne, a emotionally closed off war hero who opens himself up to heartfelt local girl Isabel Graysmark played by Oscar winner Alicia Vikander. They have a lot to explore with their characters as the film covers a long period of time so you see the actors play around with the different seasons their characters go through and it’s exciting to see so much depth in a character.

Oscar winner Rachel Weisz appears later on in the film changing the mood of the film allowing the film to explore other issues and themes. The dynamic between the cast is so natural and they all blend so well together it’s great to watch. The emotion they managed to evoke is incredible and so natural.

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I can’t say much about the film as I don’t want to spoil the different avenues the film explores however I will say that you need to bring your tissues as it definitely isn’t easy on the heart. That being said what I love about the film is how it has a good pace, without the film feeling rushed or dragged along. I’ll also say that the tone of the film is consistent despite the fact events happen which changes the direction of the film yet the tone never feels uneven or abrupt; everything is connected and feels justified to be in the film. The themes explored can be heavy but they are explored delicately and there is no sense of judgement of the characters’ actions. There are so many layers to the characters which creates engaging discussions about how they cannot be easily defined.

You need to watch the film to see for yourself how intricate the narrative development is and how each character is substantial and says a lot about humanity and our need to feel belonged; to be with each other and not isolated. There’s so much I want to say about specific scenes which perfectly sum up the themes explored in the film but I won’t spoil it for you; so watch the film and then take a few minutes to process what you’ve just seen.

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The Confessions of a Film Blogger: Foreign Language Films Edition

It’s no secret that I have watched my fair share of films; I have the film collection at home to prove it and this blog hopefully highlights my diverse taste in film. However there are still plenty of titles that I have yet to watch and I’m forever on a quest to watch films I haven’t seen before. So I thought I’d be honest with what I have seen and the many films that I need to watch. For this blog post I will be focusing on foreign language films and how I have only scratched the surface.

Foreign language films are an interesting topic because it can be quite divisive; you either love them or can’t stand reading the subtitles so you give up on them entirely. The reason why I love foreign language films is because you are given access to stories told from different cultures and your horizons are broadened in your taste in film. Just to clarify I can only speak English so films in any other language are foreign to me.

I’ll give you a rundown of the films that I have watched and loved. Now by writing this post I am not declaring myself a foreign language film expert yet an aspiring one; I hold my hands up and say I don’t watch as many as I should and hopefully that will be corrected in due course.

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(Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless – 1960)

Out of the foreign language films I have seen the most popular language I have listened to is French. There’s no specific reason why this is but I have to say I love the French language but I also enjoy watching American or British films set in France (which defeats the whole “aiming to watch more foreign language films than English spoken films but it still counts, kind of). I remember in Sixth Form we learned about the French New Wave which really fascinated me and was very enlightening learning about prominent directors François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. The movement was a rejection of period pieces or literary adaptations and instead focused on more current issues, this was very unconventional at the time and the films were inspired by the works of Hollywood greats such as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin etc. after their works had been banned in France during WW2.

The films I studied were The 400 Blows (1959), Breathless (1960) and Shoot the Piano Player (1960). I loved studying and watching these films as it’s an interesting part of cinematic history. I remember watching The 400 Blows and not connecting with it straight away but after learning it was inspired by François Truffaut’s upbringing it had more meaning and made the film more personal; he broke away from traditional filmmaking and focused on youth and growing up whilst finding your identity.

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(Marion Cotillard in her Oscar winning role for La Vie en Rose – 2007)

Two of my favourite French films are Love Me If You Dare (2003) and La Vie en Rose (2007) both starring Oscar winning actress Marion Cotillard (becoming the only actor to win the Academy Award for a performance in the French language for La Vie en Rose). Love Me If You Dare boasts terrific performances from Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard, having a dynamic chemistry and brilliantly exploring their characters over the course of many years. It’s a fun yet dangerous game they play which makes it an exciting watch for the audience. La Vie en Rose is a very different type of film, depicting the tragic life of Édith Piaf. Marion Cotillard gives everything and more to portray Édith Piaf honestly and with conviction; you buy into her performance.

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I’ve also watched Amélie (2001) years ago (in all honesty I should watch it again to refresh my memory) but it’s a film I had heard about for a long time and needed to see. It also has the iconic poster of the eponymous character looking rather ambiguously to the audience. I even managed to visit Café des 2 Moulins in Paris where Amélie works which was a cool experience. I’ve always had an interest in foreign language films and I’m so glad that I’ve never limited myself in what I watch otherwise I wouldn’t have experienced this classic…which didn’t win me over completely but at least I gave it a chance.

The Artist (2011) can be included in the discussion of films produced in other countries because whilst no words are uttered it is a French production with prominent French actors featured within the film. I love how successful it was at the box office and during the awards season, Jean Dujrdin became the first French actor to win an Oscar and the film was the first French film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Whilst this focused on the age of silent films in Hollywood I love how it was another country that produced this film.

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(Marion Cotillard in her Oscar nominated performance for Two Days, One Night – 2014)

Referring back to Marion Cotillard, she also gives a raw and vulnerable performance in Two Days, One Night (2014) a Belgium film that isn’t flashy but is an honest depiction of a woman’s pursuit to save her job whilst at risk of being voted out so that her colleagues can earn more money for their bonuses. Marion’s performance keeps you watching as you root for her character and even though yes the majority of the film is herself knocking on doors begging to keep her job, you don’t feel that it’s repetitive or mundane as it shows the true strength of her character. I love how Marion Cotillard can effortlessly go from huge blockbusters to low budget foreign language films.

Recently I watched Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) by Mexican film director Guillermo Del Toro. It won three out of six Oscar nominations (including a nomination for “Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: Mexico”) and opened to critical acclaim. I love how original this film is and how Guillermo Del Toro was inspired by fairy tales but creating his own stories set in the backdrop of the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Ivana Baquero (Ofelia) would have been 12 when the film was released and she holds the weight of the film on her shoulders with ease. Fairy tales at their essence can be dark and twisted and I love how Guillermo has fully embraced that; I would have never experienced this is I limited myself to only English spoken films.

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(Pan’s Labyrinth – 2006)

I’ve never had an issue with having to read English subtitles;  yes I am aware of them at first but in time that awareness almost fades away and I’m completely immersed in the story being told. Subtitles do not prevent me from enjoying or being invested in a foreign language film. Also the benefit of watching a film produced from another country is gaining an insight into other stories being told and yet what may surprise people is how universal and relevant the themes are to all audiences.

Despite the fact I have watched quite a few films not in the English language I still have plenty of foreign language films to watch; I have a long road ahead of me but I’m excited for the challenge. Some titles that I have had my eye on but never watched are Son of Saul (2015), Rust and Bone (2012), The Hunt (2012), A Royal Affair (2012) and the list goes on. If you’ve never really given foreign language films a chance I would encourage you to try a few titles and see how you find them; I know I need to grow my knowledge of what stories are out there being produced by other countries. It will help us get out of our “American/British film minds” and be more aware of what is going on in our world.

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(2016 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year – Hungary) 

Doctor Strange (2016) Film Review

3/5 stars

Marvel needs no introduction. Pioneering the whole cinematic universe concept they have managed to create one of the most successful franchises of all time. Now Marvel returns with its 14th cinematic outing with Doctor Strange feating Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous character. The premise of the film is that Doctor Stephen Strange is a highly talented yet arrogant neurosurgeon who learns the ways of a sorcerer after trying to find healing. Does Doctor Strange live up to the hype? no.

I really wanted to like this film as Marvel has an impressive track record with producing quality blockbusters (with some blemishes). However the film didn’t quite have the emotional punch it needed for the audience to root for Strange and to ultimately care what happens to him over the course of the film. Speaking of Strange we need to talk about Benedict Cumberbatch; overall he played the part well yet there were moments where it didn’t feel authentic and at times felt forced. However by the end of the film he comes into his own and despite some rough patches in the development of his character he emerges the hero Marvel were trying to create.

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Doctor Strange boats an impressive cast: Oscar winner Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One), Oscar nominees Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams as well as Hannibal’s Mads Mikkelsen. There was controversy with the casting of Tilda Swinton with many accusing Marvel of whitewashing the character, whilst this is a problem with Hollywood at the moment I think the decision to make The Ancient One a woman was a great move. It’s refreshing to see a prominent female led character be treated equally alongside the rest of the male cast members (we’re waiting for that Black Widow movie Marvel) and of course Tilda Swinton was incredible.

Speaking of female representation in Marvel films we have to look at Rachel McAdams who was sorely underused in the role of Christine Palmer. Fresh from her Oscar nominated role in Spotlight (2015) and with more of a decade of acting under her belt she was resorted to a forgettable role which could have been played by anyone. It was also frustrating to see her portrayed as quite a weak doctor and being told what to do all the time, Rachel McAdams is capable of so much more which is why it was frustrating to see her in this role.

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The one thing I have to applaud Marvel with is making one of the most “standalone” films in quite a while, rarely relying on numerous mentions of the Avengers to keep audiences interested. Many people complain about origin stories yet I have no issue with them, however Doctor Strange at times felt rushed. We’re first introduced to Strange in the operating theatre and in all honesty he wasn’t as arrogant as other characters tried to highlight, and then in what felt like minutes later he is involved in a fatal car accident changing his destiny forever. It didn’t have the impact it should have had because it just felt like a sequence of events; then after an outburst of not getting his way he logically heads to the mountains in Nepal only to mock the concept of healing and spirit when he arrives. I won’t go on as I don’t want to spoil the film but in short, it felt very underwhelming for what it should have been.

Marvel do have their own “comedic” style which people seem to enjoy yet in this setting it felt out of place. This is a man who has had everything wrenched from him and is at the lowest point in his life so when he arrives Kamar-Taj you’d think he’d be a bit more desperate. At times it felt that the film sacrificed emotional and deep moments in favour of “comedic” efforts, preventing it having that emotional punch. However there is one scene between The Ancient One and Doctor Strange which was my favourite scene later on during the film which showcased what the whole film could have been.

There were some standout moments which were exciting: when Doctor Strange faces off against Kaecilus (Mads Mikkelsen) for the first time and when The Ancient One showed everyone up for example. The action and spectacle was present and great to look at which made the film enjoyable, yet as much as the visual effects were impressive please stop comparing it to Inception (2010) Doctor Strange is no Inception.

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It’s no secret that despite my love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe I have issues with the interweaving nature of it’s story lines and the film’s dependancy on each other. Yet Captain America: Civil War (2016) had impact in character development and narrative, so from that film to Doctor Strange was very much of a let down.

Overall whilst Doctor Strange had some flash and exciting moments with some good performances from its cast members; it didn’t delve deep enough in order for the audience to care for Doctor Strange and it felt very underwhelming in how it used some its characters and where it took the story.

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The Girl on the Train (2016) Film Review

I’m always cautious when reviewing a film adaptation of a book because I understand they are two different platforms to tell a story. You have to understand that some changes are necessary in order to make it work for the film, yet it needs to keep the same spirit as the book and when it strips that away then there is a problem.

I heard about New York bestseller The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was being adapted into a film and was billed as “the next Gone Girl” (Gone Girl it is not) a while ago yet it was only until recently that I finally read the book. There was a lot of hype surrounding the film and the fact it had done so well would cause you to think that they were actually good….you’d think.

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The Girl on the Train focuses on Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) who commutes to New York every day and becomes fixated with the “perfect couple”. After the disappearance of Megan Hipwell it makes pointing the finger at Rachel Watson easier since she is an alcoholic who was there on the night Megan went missing and can’t remember what happened.

As mentioned earlier I try not to compare the book and film but it’s hard not to do so when one is a lot better than the other. The book isn’t perfect, yet in comparison it has a great pace to it allowing the tension to organically form and it really engrosses the reader to form their own opinions of the events that are unfolding. It’s in diary format and is from the perspective of its three female characters (with leading character Rachel Watson portrayed on screen by Emily Blunt) and in the book it’s really clever how Paula Hawkins manages to weave all timelines together to form a coherent narrative.

If I had to review it objectively then even in that case it would have felt very underwhelming and very immediate in the events that happen in the film. We’re first introduced to Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) and then all of a sudden we’re introduced to Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) without feeling like Rachel has been properly established and THEN we’re introduced to Anna Watson (Rebecca Ferguson). That fast paced “making sure we got all the information in” approach continues until you get to the ending and feel like “how did we end up here?”. The whole point of a mystery thriller is to actually have mystery and have some thrills in the twists and turns; yet in the film we are literally given all the information straight away and it’s not thrilling at all because the information was delivered in a factual manner.

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One positive from the film is Emily Blunt’s performance; a committed performance of a woman who feels like she has lost everything, mourning the past which has escaped from her and is desperate for any form of connection with anyone. However for the other characters they are completely underdeveloped and thinly written, even in the book they were more fleshed out and even in that case they could have been developed more.

There were elements that felt very basic and brushed aside very quickly that in the book were key elements yet in the film it was stated then moved on very quickly. It’s hard to give a spoiler free review as I could go in depth in giving examples of how the film failed to create any sense of mystery. With that in mind that would be my review of the film: Very immediate in its execution and completely underdeveloped in every sense.

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I can’t help but look at Gone Girl (2014) as a prime example of how to do an adaption correctly; the author (who was also the screenwriter) Gillian Flynn was wise in what to keep in and flesh out and what to cut out to give other elements of the book more time on screen to create suspense. Now don’t worry I won’t compare Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train because the former is a stronger film and book than the latter.

I’m not going to tell you to just read the book and not bother with the film (even though I want to) because if you’re like me you’ll still want to form your own opinion and watch the film to see for yourself. So just be warned that the book delves deeper into what the film failed to do. Ultimately that is the failure of director Tate Taylor (The Help) because the film actually had potential to be a quality mystery thriller.

(Star rating: 2/5 stars)